Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interesting development

This is an interesting development (from MSNBC.com):

“President Barack Obama left the door open Tuesday to prosecuting Bush administration officials who devised the legal authority for gruesome terrorism-suspect interrogations, saying the United States lost "our moral bearings" with use of the tactics.

The question of whether to bring charges against those who devised justification for the methods "is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said. “

Ok, so it’s comical enough that Barack Obama’s news network has decided that the interrogation methods are “gruesome”.  MSNBC took leave of any hint of objectivity long, long ago so that shouldn’t come as any surprise.

The interesting bit is that after deciding the agents who actually carried out behavior which was described as legal under our own laws (though, as I said before, troublesome at best and clearly actions which, whether legal or not, should be avoided) would not be prosecuted, he leaves the door open to prosecute those who’s worst offense is misinterpreting the law.  Which is to say, I suppose, it’s ok to shoot the gun as long as someone in authority told you it was ok, but it’s not ok to be someone in authority who mistakenly said it was ok to shoot.

Curious.  Very curios.


This whole sorry experience is why this vast grey area shouldn’t even be approached to begin with.  Identical actions, in separate contexts, can be given different meanings.  Slap a soldier in SERE school?  Training.  Slap a prisoner?  Harsh interrogation technique.  Slap him 4 times?  6?  25?  Somewhere in there it becomes torture.  But where?  Is subjecting a soldier to water boarding with no intent whatsoever to extract information torture or training?  Is subjecting a prisoner to water boarding with the sole intent to extract information torture or interrogation?  What if you’re not interested in extracting or using the information?  The answer becomes more clear there, obviously.  If you change the facts you change the findings.  Context matters.


It was a similar problem we would discuss in my former life in the non-profit world.  Child abuse was less a function of the actions and more a function of the intent behind the actions.  A spanking is not abuse, but when does a spanking become a beating?  Both can look identical from the outside, but I guaran-damn-tee the child knows the difference (if he’s old enough) and the adult very likely knows the difference, but possibly only after the fact.  You may think you’re only trying to get the baby to stop crying when you shake her, but only after you’ve calmed down do you realize that you were angry and/or frustrated and taking that anger/frustration out on that precious baby.  It’s not a clinical definition of abuse, but my hunch is that discipline becomes abuse when anger is included in the equation.


That same definition can probably translate over into crime and punishment, as well.  Prison sentences can become abusive when they’re levied not because “A” did “B” to “C”, but rather because the “B” that “A” did was “SOO HEINOUS” that the punishment had to be tripled.  You don’t merely want to incarcerate them, but incarcerate them with the big, scary mother fuckers who’ll gang rape them on a nightly basis.


Or attach electrodes to their genitals.


Or water board them.


Or lock them in a room with an insect, because they’re afraid of bugs.


The legal system is intended specifically to prevent emotional retribution.


Whether it’s legal or not (and, according to the right or wrong opinion of counsel, it was legal) somewhere it crosses the line from discipline, or interrogation, to abuse, or torture.  And, as I said before, even when it’s legal, if you don’t know where that line is, it’s probably better to not approach it lest you find yourself far, far on the other side wondering just how you got so far off track.  Or, as the President put it, how you lost your “moral bearing”.


These are, after all, people.  They may be bad people (allegedly), but you don’t kick people.  Not even bad people.


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